Thursday, December 29, 2011

Government exploits our fears

From the start, I've found Homeland Security's if you see something, say something campaign more than a bit creepy.

Some cities saw the messages on ad placards. Walmart rolled out special videos at its checkouts. Then it was pitched at major sporting events. Now the National Hockey League is among the latest to succumb to pitching the paranoia.

Is all this really necessary? If rational Americans see something suspicious, does the government think they'd hold back on reporting it without this crass marketing?

Before the DHS took the campaign national, See Something, Say Something made its debut in New York City. The pitch brought a satirical response by some, who countered the message with one of their own:

If you fear something, you'll see something. 

To paraphrase the counter message: Keep your wits about you even if the government is trying to scare you out of them.

Meanwhile, Homeland Security is busy in other areas as well. In 2011, the Transportation Safety Administration greatly expanded the number of teams it has to conduct security screenings at rail and bus stations, as well as at random highway checkpoints. CBS in Los Angeles reports these teams, known as VIPRs, conduct "suspicionless" searches of the traveling public. The number of VIPR teams will reportedly expand again in 2012.

The government's See Something campaign may be more about marketing encroachment on our freedom  than it is about catching a terrorist. If the public perceives an immediate threat, it is likely more likely to go along with things like government checkpoints.

Separate fact from slick marketing. The government is moving in a direction that increasingly infringes on individual liberty. Twenty-five years ago, we would not have accepted federal checkpoints that, without probable cause, randomly search citizens for something as routine as boarding a bus or train, or for driving down a highway. Why do we accept it now?

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